Survey of musicians debunks myth of high income from merchandise sales

Kristin Thomson, Future of Music Coalition's website, 1/9/13

In December, we took a data-driven look at a handful of common assumptions about how musicians make money: that they're rich; that they make all of their money from touring; and that they don't make any money selling records. Our final stop in this series looks at the meme that "musicians make all their money selling t-shirts." As with other issues that we've tackled in this series, there is a grain of truth to this. Let's face it: in a world where sound recordings are ubiquitous and low cost/nearly free for consumers, some bands have turned to making money on things that are either tangible, unique or exclusive. This includes merchandise.  But how important are the merchandise and branding revenue streams? And are they changing over time? On the Money from Music survey, 5,371 respondents [from the worlds of classical, jazz, rock, country and hip-hop said] the aggregated percent of income derived from merchandise -- non-musical items like t-shirts, hats and posters --  in the past 12 months was 2%. Look at our full blog post for data broken down by role and genre. We also asked about perceived changes in merchandise revenue over the past five years. The data indicates this income source hasn't changed much. But, for about 73% of survey respondents, the question about merchandise income was "Not applicable" to their career trajectory. This underscores the fact that our survey population includes composers and songwriters, salaried orchestra players, session musicians and teachers - all of these being sectors in which merchandising and branding are not typically part of their revenue picture. The top-level survey data suggests thatincome from merchandise is only relevant for a limited number of musicians. And even for these musicians, income from merchandise is a small piece of most musicians' revenue pies.


How San Francisco Ballet made almost $600,000 from merchandise in FY12

Cheryl A. Ossola, Dance/USA's e-journal From The Green Room, 1/22/13
With creativity, resourcefulness, and commitment, performing-arts organizations can turn merchandising into serious money. Case in point: San Francisco Ballet, whose Ballet Shop, online store, and touring mini-shops brought in $590,968, or 2.7% of the company's annual earned revenue for fiscal year 2012. Valerie Megas, SF Ballet's senior manager of retail operations, stepped into the role 12 years ago and made huge changes: "I expanded the apparel line because I started designing it. I'm very particular about what we put our brand on, so we don't have a lot of branded merchandise. But what we do have, aside from the apparel [such items as umbrellas, water bottles, key chains, and wallets], is nice. It's not something you would get at a corporate giveaway. It's tastefully done and it's useful." Top-quality merchandise is a must, and equally important is its presentation. For that reason, stock items are removed from their packaging and displayed creatively, and branded SF Ballet tags replace the originals (except on high-end items that need justification for their price). Megas believes [an investment of resources] is often overlooked by arts organizations hoping to develop serious retail revenue. That includes providing space, a sufficient budget for inventory and part-time staff [and] authorizing the IT department to develop a fast point-of-sale system for the shop -- and keep it updated. A shop that delivers big-time in terms of revenue, branding, and company image requires complete buy-in from [all] departments. And that's the biggest underlying reason for the SF Ballet Shop's success. "I have the support of everybody in this company," Megas says, "and it's full support."


Tips for making the most of your museum or theatre's merchandise shop

Matthew Caines, The Guardian's [UK] Culture Professionals Network blog, 10/18/12

A panel of top retail experts share some advice on how to run your store more efficiently and effectively. Read a full transcript of their live chat here.

Sara Ley, head of retail, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Place products to tap into human behaviour: Our products for kids are in the centre of our shop to entice families in, and it's also a good idea to have larger kids products available to use and play with, which drives sales for us.

Share the load with other museums: We've recently begun working with a nearby venue to share costs on producing bespoke items -- this really helps spread the cost when you have high minimum order quantities.

Talk to your customers: Your sales will give you the best indication of what works and what your visitors expect but our communications department do spend a lot of time, through market research, defining who our customers are and where they come from.

Use new designers: They do, however, need to be on brand in terms of the look and feel of the shop. Price point is an important factor, as well as minimum order quantity. Lead times and availability is also important; designers need to ensure they can fulfil orders within a reasonable timescale. Finally, look for originality.

Take the shop on the road and online: We've experimented with attending fairs and markets - it has been working really well, raising awareness of the shop and the gallery. Our Twitter page works really well for us as well, and a good social media presence is key. We have an excellent relationship with one of the leading high street department stores and they've allowed us to promote our shop events and some of our exclusive products in-store.

Meghan Cole, head of retail, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Arrange your products with personality: We merchandise all our ranges in the same way: T-shirts top left; bags top right; mugs across the middle. It creates a very strong and confident look in the shop, and this seems to promote better sales. It says we are confident in our products and it makes it visually easier for the customer to find what they want.

Illuminate the shop: Sort out the lighting if it's too dark because if the customer can't see your products, they won't buy any!

Invest in full-time staff: I'm not convinced volunteers have a place on the shop team. My team is highly trained and has expert knowledge not only about what they are selling, but about the site and surrounds - it would mean a considerable investment in time for a volunteer to keep up to speed with an ever-changing product file.

Don't think too far outside the box: Don't merchandise Coriolanus! Stick to the plays people know and create a strong range of five to seven products.


Commentary: 9 baffling movie merchandise tie-ins

Cole Gamble, Mental Floss blog, 6/29/12

Every summer, movie season collides with merchandising mania to create a perfect storm of licensed nonsense. We, the human race, have proven to Hollywood time and time again we will empty our pockets for anything with our favorite movie logo hastily slapped on it. But at least most of that junk allows us to momentarily remember why we loved the movie. Then there are these.

1. The James Bond Scented Candle is the triple threat of bad movie marketing. Bond has never been the "scented candles"-type romancer. Is Bond really the most romantic impression you want to make with your wife or girlfriend? Yes, he gets the ladies, but monogamy -- not his strong suit. And what would a candle infused with the essence of James Bond smell like, exactly? My guess: gun powder and testosterone. 

2. The Transformers Shaving Kit: Let's quickly rattle off everything that makes no sense. Robots don't shave. Kids don't shave. You can't actually shave with this kit.

3. Everything about The Matrix world is high tech. The Matrix phone, however, is quite the opposite. Released in 2003, it was completely barren of any technology of the time. So it's just a toy, right? At $500, no way.

4. The entire Twilight series is basically a heavy-handed PSA for teen abstinence. So a Twilight condom is in direct opposition to the overarching theme of the series. Also, vampires don't need condoms, being dead and all.

5. Nobody wants to eat a burger with a black bun. Nobody. [Nevertheless,] the "Dark Vador" Burger made by fast food chain Quick (a European Burger King, essentially) was launched to coincide with the premiere of The Phantom Menace.

6. Fight Club calls out rampant consumerism so it's a tad odd to squeeze any kind of merchandising from the title, let alone a $165 leather jacket.

7. The Passion of the Christ's Official Nails Necklace is just not a good way to commemorate the suffering of Jesus.

8. The Color Purple Teddy Bear: there is no defending this.

9. Making a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves cereal in the shape of arrows isn't a terrible idea, but it isn't a great one, either. And when those arrows look very little like arrows and kids are eating bowls of suggestively-shaped cereal, you have a marketing flop. 

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